Language


“As an immigrant to the U.S., I am not surprised by the strong support for official English among Hispanics,” said Mr. Mujica, who came here from Chile in 1965. “The majority of immigrants understand that coming to a new country means learning the language of that country. While individuals are free to speak the language of their choice, they cannot expect the government to provide information in every foreign language.”

As a descendant of Spanish-speaking Americans who never immigrated to the United States, I must remind Mauro Mujica that Spanish is not a foreign language–it was the language of people made citizens of the United States by annexation in the Mexican-American War.  I guess it’s convenient for Latinos who come from outside the US to want English as the official language.

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Spanish-speakers are the future of the Catholic Church in America, but didn’t Bishop Lamy know that?  Anyway, Wichita’s churches are increasingly dominated by Spanish-speakers, whom the Church feels inclined to serve.

Within the past century, the population center of the U.S. Catholic church has shifted from the Midwest and Northeast to the nation’s Sun Belt states due to the Hispanic migration, Gray said.

“They bring goodness to the Catholic church in America. They bring new life,” [Father Eric Weldon] said.

Among his parishioners at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Wichita is Alma Rocha, who grew up in Mexico and now lives in Wichita with her family. She prefers to attend the Spanish Mass, saying she can understand more of it than its English counterpart.

Like many Catholic Mexican immigrants, she also feels more comfortable with the livelier Spanish-language Masses in “classic Jalisco” style – replete with three mandolins, a standup bass, and four guitars – which are more reminiscent of the church services she attended as a child in Mexico.

More sedate English Masses feature an organ and choir for music.

“The English Mass is so quiet,” Rocha said as she waited in a car to pick up her children as classes at their Catholic school let out. “I love my people. I love my culture.”

The goals of the clergy are not to provincialize immigrants, but to serve as moral guidance and assistance in integration.

“The Mexican immigrants go to the priest as soon as they can about problems,” Weldon said. “Americanized Catholics go to a therapist, to a psychologist or ignore it and at the last minute – when it is too late – they talk to me. … Because Hispanics go to the priest with their problems first, they rely more on the priest. They need me a lot.”

The Catholic church in the U.S. is preparing its priests and seminarians for a more multicultural ministry, said Bishop Michael Jackels of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita. While that may address a reality for American churches, it may eventually strain priests who find themselves having to “double all the things” to meet the needs of English and Hispanic parishioners, Jackels said.

Jackels said he expected demand for Spanish-language Masses to diminish as migrant families become more established in the U.S. That’s what happened with the diocese’s Vietnamese Mass, where attendance has fallen as the children of Vietnamese families born here either speak little Vietnamese or prefer attending English Masses with their friends.

“It is part of the goal not to set up parallel parishes … but to work toward integration,” Jackels said.

Most Americans probably are not aware of the hostility that indigenous Mexicans and Mestizos feel at home. Integrating into American society is no less difficult, but probably more rewarding, than what they face at home.

After centuries of near-total neglect of those “Indios” who maintained their indigenous language and traditions, the Mexican educational system established in the 1920s, after the Revolution, officially recognized that these languages existed and declared that they needed to be wiped out.Called “castellanización,” or “Spanishization,” this policy called for a system of Spanish-only schools in indigenous communities that would ease the assimilation of these poorest and most marginalized of Mexico’s peasants into the Mestizo culture.

According to Sylvia Schmelkes, head of the Department of Bilingual and Intercultural Education for Mexico’s federal education system, this educational model gave way, roughly in the middle of the 20th century, to a different approach.

“Teachers started to work with the indigenous language as a tool to help them achieve speaking Spanish,” she said. By the 1970s, Schmelkes said, a separate system of bilingual schools was created, whose objective was “to achieve an integral bilingualism, a fluency in both languages.”

“But many teachers still follow the old philosophies,” she said.